Having struggled all week to buy the ticket to the WSOPE I felt like the tournament itself couldn't really be that hard. So there's a few top players in it; I've not got a bad record in these long events and I've got nothing to lose.
The Sportsman has never really been a lucky venue for me, and I'm not massively keen on the place. I find it a bit claustrophobic in that basement where the mobile 'phone reception is about as hit and miss as the dealing standards. It's nice to walk to "work" though and also nice to see a few friendly, happy excited young faces around the room. Willie Tann and Robin Keston look pleased to see me too.
Despite the presence of about 100 WSOP Gold Bracelets in London, my table is made up largely of unknowns. The guy who's supposed to sit next to me is a bit of an internet legend, but a juicy PLO game makes him ninety minutes late and he arrives just in time to do 80% of his chips on his first hand without reaching the river.
After he bows out we're left to marvel at the John Tabatabai show for the rest of the day. John is, I think, an Iranian from Cardiff, who used to read law at Reading University. His weekends were spent in the Vic where we would always be guaranteed a fun game with John around. The lads in the hundred hold 'em game considered John a total star, but he always played creatively, took defeat well, and played the game with tremendous heart and spirit. I wish he'd come and visit us more often.
For the whole of the day I failed to get anything going. My decisions were constantly whether to call all-in or move-in with no fold equity, in pots where John had raised and someone had reraised. I never saw a hand, and was at a table where getting your hands paid off seemed a good strategy. By the end of the day I was frustrated and also slightly embarrassed. It seemed like I hadn't competed at all. I didn't come here to be anted away, but what could I do? The other players must have wondered why I'd bothered entering.
Day two meant a trip to The Empire and the real hub of the tournament. I got another table full of relative unknowns, albeit Scandinavian ones. Soon I was making a few moves, winning pots with an A9 a KJ and even a 10,5. I even won a race to double-up and finally get to average before the table broke.
On my next table I was seated next to a familiar looking American gentleman. I thought I'd try and suss him out and went for a traditional Vegas greeting.
"Where are you from sir?"
There were stifled giggles from my neighbours and a slight look of bemusement from my new American friend. He held out his hand and stated:
"My name's Jamie Gold."
He played quite well really. He might not be Phil Hellmuth, but there have probably been worse World Champions.
The new table was a bit of a let-down and I didn't make a lot of progress before we moved again. Just in case I was missing him they sat me next to John Tabatabai again. He played really well while I sat there waiting for a hand to stick it in with. Play was painfully slow and I was a bit frustrated. I got quite ratty with one poor fella, who was probably just nervous and excited and didn't realise how slow he was.
Eventually I managed to get knocked out and headed back to the Edgware Road. It had actually been a surprisingly well organised tournament, with just the right number of players for the venues, and a good combination of poker legends and less accomplished players. I just personally hadn't had a great time of it.
I followed the rest of the tournament keenly. The final was very interesting and there were a few people I wanted to see succeed. Theo Jorgenson is a nice guy and an excellent player; I'm pretty sure I've overplayed the odd pair of tens before, he'll get over it. John played really well throughout and I thought he was going to do it, but I'm sure he can be both happy and proud of himself. I was pretty pleased that Annette won it. I played with her in Dublin, both in the tournament and in cash and we had fun. I'm sure poker could do with more eighteen year old girls around - I know I could.
With only a week until the big Vic EPT London Festival a sensible player might take a few days off to recharge and regroup. Obviously I didn't waste valuable gambling time doing that. Long sessions in the Vic were only disturbed by a pleasant break for the Poker Den 24 Hour TV Cash Game.
Barry Hearn is a brilliant sports promoter, agent and manager. Some people think of him as an East-End wide boy who is taking money out of poker, but I think he's a brilliant salesman who for sure, is out to make money, but really loves the game and has done a lot for it.
With a bunch of top American pros kicking around London, a TV studio in Maidstone sitting empty and space in the Channel Five late night schedules for some cheap TV, it was time for Eddie Hearn to get on the blower. Eddie is Barry's son, and demonstrates perfectly the meaning of the expression chip off the old block. Despite my reservations about playing for slightly larger than normal stakes, with some of the World's top players on TV, using my own money, and getting nothing in appearance money or expenses, in order to help Matchroom Sports sell a nice TV show, I soon found myself thanking Eddie for inviting me. He told me to be at Battersea Heliport by 6pm.
The chopper ride was quite pleasant and I was able to point out the landmarks to Todd and Pam Brunson and Mr and Mrs Hoyt Corkins. On arrival at the studio I was starting to wish I hadn't bothered. Eddie had enticed me with promises of a few "stars". Some tournament specialists who aren't too good in cash games and a few millionaires were supposed to be interspersed with the WSOP bracelet holders. It was also supposed to be a nice friendly $25-$50 game where I'd get some play for my $30k. Instead it seemed that three people were stuck $60k with one winning $80k and preflop raises of $1000 were just routine. I planned to just play quietly for an hour before making my excuses and leaving.
My first table consisted of Hoyt Corkins, Chris Ferguson, Robert Williamson, Tony G, Max Pescatori and Todd Brunson. I managed a good start though when I flopped a set against Robert. He did well to only lose $8k to me and my only thoughts now were how to politely leave.
The game progressed though and the line-ups changed. I wiped out Max with a welcome pair of aces and Jamie Gold, Roland and Pam Brunson came to visit, along with a regular Vic customer in Andrew ("Royal Me") Feldman. I particularly enjoyed trapping Jamie Gold with another pair of aces and I began to settle in.
In the end they had to drag me off the table when the game broke at 3pm Tuesday. I'd certainly seen easier opponents and I had been played off the table by Kirk Morrison and Brian Townsend, but it had been great fun and a challenge. I'd even managed to eek out a few dollars profit.
You'd think after that the cash game at the Vic might seem easy. With a few extra visitors around for the festival the games were busier and bigger than ever. Anyone who knows the game will realise how inevitable it was that the poker gods would now decide to knock me back down to earth. With the monkey game (10/10/25 optional 50 blinds) running every day now this wasn't a great week to experience a bad run. Losing money, coupled with long hours and some frustrations with the organisation at the Vic, meant I was getting a bit moody and miserable. My disposition wasn't helped by a series of arguments and misunderstandings that cropped up throughout the week. Was this a good time to be spending five grand of my own money on the EPT tournament? Probably not. Maybe if I could win a seat for 330 in this last super-satellite...
Neil "Bad Beat" Channing will be playing the EPT London at the Vic this week and can be seen playing cash on Channel Five in November. He'll be proudly wearing his "lucky" PokerVerdict top.